Shyama Shastri – Composer of Karnatic Music

Shyama Shastri biography

Shyama Shastri actual name was Venkata Subrahmanyam. He was born on 26 April 1762 in Thirur, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu. His father’s name was Visvanatha Iyer, and his Mother was Vengalakshmi. Shyama Shastri contributed a lot to classical Karnatic Music. He was a contemporary of Thyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshitar. Both were good friends and met often and spent a lot of time discussing Karnatic Music.
He was born into a Brahmin family; his Parents had no particular interest in Music. However, his father educated him in Sanskrit and Telugu languages; besides these taught devotional songs. His interest in Music made him learn fundamentals from his cousins.

Shyama Shastri Learning Music

At 18, his family migrated to Thanjavur; luckily, they found a monk Sangitaswami, who was talented in classical Music and dance. In a short time, Sangita Swami found out about the boy’s interest and intellectuality in Music. Shyama Shastri had a melodious voice and could easily understand the complexity of musical tones. So the monk taught him the concepts of raga, tala, and swarm. Within four months, Shyama Shastri profoundly learned the intricate details of the Music. Then Sangeeta Shastri advised him to listen to the tune of Adiyappayya, the famous composer of Bhairavi Rag and the musician in the court of Tanjore. As an advice, he met Adiyappayya, made friends, and learned techniques for various music Raagas.

Friendship with Thyagaraja

His interest in Music, the composition of Ragas, and the melodious voice made him famous in the surrounding villages. Later he became one of the most proficient scholars and composers in Tamil Nadu. Frequently Thyagaraja admired the talent of Shyama Shastri in Karnatic music. This made both excellent friends, caused to discussing on their latest compositions of songs.

A devotee of Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi

His forefathers worked in the temples as priests. His father was also a priest in Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi temple. Shyama Shastri also went to the temple and worshipped the Goddess. This made me grow faith in Goddess Bangaru Kamakshi. Gradually, he became a pious devotee of the Goddess and forgot the material world while serving in the temple. During that time, unconsciously, he would sing the praise of Kritis. However, he wrote only 300 Kritis, significantly less to compare his contemporaries. He had few disciples, so his critics were not propagated. In those days, printing presses were also not available to store the Kritis as printing materials. Even though his kritis became very popular, he wrote the Kritis in Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit. Primarily most of his Kritis were composed of Goddess Devi.
Shyama Shastri used the common ragas to compose the Krithis: Manj, Chintamani and Karnataka Kepi. His favourite ragas were Saveri and the old raga Anandabhairavi.

Shyama Shastri Defeated top Musicians.

Once, the Bobbili musician Kesavayya Challenged the Tanjavur court musicians in intricate talas. Then Shyama Shastri went to Devi temple, meditated for some time and sang ‘Devi brova Samayamide’, which means time is ready to protect me. Later went to the court of Thanjavur and defeated Kesavayya. At another time participated in a contest with Appukuti Nattuvanar, the famous classical musician and beat him. Since then, Appukutti didn’t use his tamboura and tala forever.
He composed 300 songs, most of which were in the Telugu language. Only a few were in Tamil and Sanskrit. The composition style of his songs was effortless and could easily convey the meaning to the illiterate.
Shyama Shastri had two Sons, Panju Shastri, and Subrahmanya Shastri. He maintained the family with solid bondage. He encouraged his sons to learn Music. Subrahmanya Shastri learned Karnatic music and was a famous musician like his father. He was also a disciple of Thyagaraja. Shyama Shastri died on 6 February 1827.